A few observations from the 2013 Precision Machining Technology Show (PMTS) in Columbus.
1) Attendance at shows is dwindling, which does not mean PMTS was a weak event for those who attended. The third day was a bust for counting attendees, but a great time for exhibitors to walk the floor and touch their peers. I think this has become an important aspect of smaller shows – the chance for the community of vendors to share stories and swap ideas. The machining world is a shockingly close community of buyers, sellers, and producers. The willingness of machining folk to share knowledge, even with potential competitors, is a refreshing testament to the term “friendly competition.”
2) People are quite optimistic about their businesses, even though generally they are feeling a lull right now. There is a sense that the field has thinned out, Chinese competition is less intense, money is fairly accessible, home building is rising, and prices for materials are stable. This is a window of quiet opportunity. There is no buying frenzy, but a resolve to improve processes and equipment.
3) Customers want value, but they also crave stable, capable suppliers. Big companies that virtually never single-sourced will do it today with seasoned, trusted firms. This makes planning more reliable than it has been in a decade, which means more sales of capital equipment. It is also making job shops, of all things, a hot commodity for the bigger companies and private equity firms. Job shops have expertise, customers, and a reputation to sell. The value of the equipment, which used to be the only way to monetize a job shop, is secondary to its ability to produce good product and be “growable.” Perhaps the best example of the potential value of a very smart group of machining guys is the sale of PPC Corporation in Manlius, New York (Syracuse) for over $500 million. The fourth generation of the Mezzalingua family sold the business, which has morphed into a successful manufacturer of connectors for the cable TV industry, to Belden Wire in January. The founder of the company John Mezzalingua, a child of Sicilian parents, started the business in 1946 by showing his employer, the S. Cheney and Son Foundry, how they could improve their ugly potbelly stoves by inexpensively polishing them. Mr. Cheney was so impressed he backed Mezzalingua to start his own business. Today the foundry is long gone, but the Mezzalingua heirs are very rich. The word is that the family kept the wireless technology they developed out of the deal with Belden. This may well be the seed of an even bigger fortune. It shows what you can do with a bunch of screw machines and some very shrewd people.
Question: Will the Boston bombing deter you from attending big events?